Tallis turned over some papers covered in sketches and held them up to the light, one after another, while Eljiah watched, distracted from his class notes. “What are you looking for?” he asked.
“Missing people,” Tallis said. “The art schools buy bodies for the study of anatomy. Individual artists, too, who take an interest and can afford them.” He pushed some sketches across the table. “Understanding the workings of the body help one understand form, and life. These are really very good.”
“I’ll take your word.” Eljiah pushed the sketches back. “That’s the medical schools, dentists, doctors, and now artists and art schools, too?”
“That’s just the list of professional and above-board buyers,” Tallis said. “There are more.”
“This is worse than the mummy trade.” Eljiah sighed. “It’s bad enough that archeologists and tomb thieves steal bodies and treasures from ancient civilizations. The kings and queens of old don’t have living, mourning relatives.”
“Mostly true,” said Tallis, tilting his head as if listening to something far away.
Eljiah chose to ignore that. “It has to stop. I wish,” he stopped. He missed hearing a particular sarcastic voice say wry things in that Arienish accent. A terrible thought occurred to him. “I need to visit a grave.”
“Your friend?” Tallis asked, suddenly observant.
“I want to make sure it’s undisturbed.”
“Best bring me then,” Tallis said. “I can tell if he’s still about, or if it’s just his body in there, or nothing at all.”
“He wouldn’t be a ghost.” Eljiah frowned. “He’d come to grips with his mortality, by the end. He went on to the next adventure without me.”
“Mmm,” said Tallis, fumbling a pen over and over in his hands, abstracted again. “A brave and wise man he, then. Look. Ah, if you ever find, say, the water of life, or of youth, and it isn’t some dark or double-edged trap, do, ah, let me know.” He caught Eljiah’s worried look. “It’s not for me, it, ah, you know.”
“Yes,” said Eljiah.
“I’m not afraid of death. I’ve been dying almost my whole life, and not just in the metaphysical sense we all are. You know. But he deserves better. More time.”
“I agree,” Eljiah said. “Tallis, is that why you’re studying here?”
“I got the veterinary science degree in Shandor,” Tallis said, with a gaunt shrug. “They don’t offer medicine there at this level yet.”
“Can I speak honestly?” Eljiah asked.
“I expect it,” Tallis said.
Eljiah took one of Tallis’ icy hands in both his new, oddly small ones. “I think perhaps, rather than being apart chasing hopes, you could better spend what time you have, together.”
“But we do,” Tallis said, tapping his forehead with a thin finger. “Where do you think my mind is, half the time?” He blinked slowly and smiled.
Eljiah let him go. It certainly explained some of the odder things he’d overheard Tallis muttering. “Oh. Well, I hope that’s working well, but, um . . .”
“Soon enough classes will be over,” Tallis said. “I will build a laboratory, a right one, and teach, perhaps. I learned a lot from watching Doctor Ash. Not all of it was terrible. Maybe I can undo some of what he’s done. Set it right, now that I understand more.”
Eljiah swallowed, trying to think sensibly of what a good laboratory might be like, and not see again the nightmares they’d found in Ash’s abandoned halls.
“I think once Rades is gone, and I with him, I will donate my body to the school I start, so that others can learn about life, and form. How to cure, and make well, and draw what is true. If others could do the same, there would be no need for theft.”
“I, ah, expect you are right. Though I’m not sure it could be made popular.”
“I admit I am no expert on popularity,” Tallis said. “Shall we go walk in the graveyards?”
* * * * * *
Djaren survived the day’s schedule of lectures, and managed to surprise another teacher who thought to catch him daydreaming by accurately repeating the man’s last three sentences. Most of the other teachers had given up trying to catch him off guard. He was daydreaming, of course, his head full of crypts, cultists in dark robes, body snatchers, and how to find them all and put a stop to their barely illegal and very profitable trade. Isakoa’s plan of bringing it to the attention of someone important was good, but he could just hear Mother scolding him about putting foreign royalty in danger. “Don’t start any international incidents,” was one of her clearly-stated instructions. He didn’t think she’d accept the “But it’s for justice!” excuse, even though she was Shandor’s ranking Justice these days. Being good was very, very hard.
On being released from classes, he looked out the window for Kara, but didn’t see any sign of her. He watched, all the way back to the dormitories, scanning rooftops and sewer gratings alike. He got to his room to find no Kara waiting. He sat on his bed and closed his eyes, concentrating. If anything had happened, he’d know, wouldn’t he? It took him what felt like too long, but at last there she was, some distance off, being carefully quiet, hiding. Not from him, but from someone else. He wanted more information, but not to distract her.
Isakoa burst in, then, with Nahaka as his heels. “Have you seen Seilu?” he asked. “We can’t find him.”